NC­soft of­fi­cial dis­putes claim by Gar­riott as trial be­gins

In law­suit, game de­signer says he was fired, lost $47 mil­lion in pre­ma­ture stock op­tion sale

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Brian Gaar

The trial pit­ting fa­mous game de­signer Richard Gar­riott against his for­mer em­ployer got un­der way Mon­day, as lawyers sparred over whether Gar­riott was fired from his job in 2008.

Gar­riott is su­ing NC­soft Corp., claim­ing that the com­pany mis­char­ac­ter­ized his de­par­ture as vol­un­tary, which forced him to pre­ma­turely ex­er­cise his stock op­tions, ul­ti­mately cost­ing him $47 mil­lion, his attorneys said.

“Richard Gar­riott needs your help to be made whole for that loss,” his at­tor­ney Stephen Fox told a jury in U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ court.

But an NC­soft at­tor­ney re­sponded that Gar­riott vol­un­tar­ily re­signed, and it was his de­ci­sion to sell the stock op­tions at a rel­a­tively low price.

“This is a case about … a per­son who’s want­ing to re­write his­tory,” Laura Mer­ritt, at­tor­ney for the South Korean gam­ing com­pany, said.

Mer­ritt said that Gar­riott still made mil­lions in profit from sell­ing his op­tions, and ac­cused him of want­ing even more money to fund a lav­ish life­style.

Un­der Gar­riott’s con­tract, a vol­un­tary de­par­ture meant he had to ex­er­cise his tens of mil­lions of stock op­tions within 90 days. He would have had 2½ years to ex­er­cise the op­tions af­ter be­ing fired.

At is­sue is a phone con­ver­sa­tion Gar­riott had with Chris Chung, CEO of NC­soft’s North Amer­i­can op­er­a­tions, on Nov. 6, 2008. That was shortly af­ter Gar­riott re­turned from a trip to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion aboard a Rus­sian rocket.

Gar­riott’s attorneys said the trip was the cul­mi­na­tion of a child­hood dream and that Gar-

Con­tin­ued from B ri­ott used it to help pro­mote “Tab­ula Rasa,” a space-themed game that Gar­riott de­vel­oped with NC­soft. “Tab­ula Rasa” launched in late 2007, shortly be­fore Gar­riott took a leave of ab­sence to train for his space flight.

NC­soft’s attorneys said the com­pany was forced to rush the game’s launch be­cause of Gar­riott’s trip. “Tab­ula Rasa” ul­ti­mately flopped, which soured NC­soft ex­ec­u­tives’ opin­ion of Gar­riott, they said.

Gar­riott “walked away from his job at a time when his team back in Austin needed him the most and, not sur­pris­ingly, while he was gone and when he came back, his em­ployer ques­tioned his com­mit­ment to his job,” Mer­ritt said.

Chung tes­ti­fied that he told Gar­riott on Nov. 6, 2008, that Gar­riott had done “grave harm” to the com­pany be­cause of his ab­sence. But he de­nied fir­ing Gar­riott, say­ing that he asked Gar­riott if he would con­sider “am­i­ca­bly” leav­ing the com­pany.

Gar­riott’s attorneys said that Gar­riott worked hard to pro­mote “Tab­ula Rasa” in con­nec­tion with his space flight and had no in­ten­tion of leav­ing the com­pany on his re­turn from space. Fox said that Gar­riott re­ceived CEO Taek Jin Kim’s bless­ing for the trip.

But be­fore talk­ing to Gar­riott about his fu­ture, com­pany of­fi­cials were plan­ning to re­or­ga­nize NC­soft’s North Amer­i­can op­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony, in­clud­ing shut­ting down “Tab­ula Rasa” and mov­ing the North Amer­i­can head­quar­ters from Austin to Seat­tle, com­pany of­fi­cials said.

Al­though Chung de­nied that NC­soft planned to fire Gar­riott, un­der ques­tion­ing from Fox, he con­firmed that he had tes­ti­fied in a de­po­si­tion that Kim had in­structed him to re­move Gar­riott from the com­pany.

But Chung backed away from that Mon­day, say­ing that Kim merely asked him to look at Gar­riott’s “sta­tus” with the com­pany, and that re­moval was “among many op­tions.”

Chung also said that only Kim had the author­ity to fire Gar­riott. “Did you fire (Gar­riott)?” Mer­ritt asked. “No,” Chung re­sponded.

Chris Chung Exec tes­ti­fies that Gar­riott was asked if he would ‘am­i­ca­bly’ leave the com­pany.

Richard Gar­riott says he had the bless­ing of NC­soft’s top ex­ec­u­tive to make his 200 trip to space.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.